Thursday, May 05, 2011

A Lucky Strike

Hi everyone. I'm posting this week's story a day late this week, so apologies all around, but mostly to today's featured writer, Donna Galanti, who helped me get around Allentown, PA last month when she co-coordinated the Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group Conference. This excerpt from her novel, A Lucky Strike, is about the lengths a person will go to in order to survive, no matter the sacrifice.

Donna has worked in marketing, advertising, and even as a Navy photographer in Pearl Harbor. She wrote a memoir about her experience in boot camp titled Letters from Boot Camp and is now working on a follow up to a suspense novel. Donna says she writes about "the dark side of human nature" and how we "overcome sorrow and tragedy." I think the piece below exhibits that philosophy pretty succinctly. After you read it, be sure to check out Donna's website: Enjoy!

A Lucky Strike
By Donna Galanti

Ben Fieldstone watched the coffin lowered into the earth and fantasized new ways to kill his foster father, Frank. He drags him in his drunken daze to the shed, holds up his reeking body and presses his head in the vise on the workbench. He winds the mechanism …tighter, tighter…Frank mumbles and shrieks…his skin splits and blood oozes out dripping down his face.

He didn’t know what would happen if you squeezed someone’s head in a vise. Would it just pop and bits of brain and blood explode outward or would it be a slow, bloody mess? His heart pulsed quicker just thinking of it. He knew he could never kill him though. He was tall, but thin, and no match against Frank’s bulky, squat frame.

“Hey, let’s go,” directed Frank, nudging him, after the service was over. “I need to get outta here.” His red-rimmed eyes made him appear forlorn over the passing of his wife, Emma, but Ben knew it was the booze. Ben nodded and flicked his black bangs away from his gray eyes before looking at the grave one more time. He ripped off his black jacket and headed toward the rusty car that sat baking in the blistering August heat. It felt as though the world had taken its last breath. Summer had sucked the life out of all that was green, leaving the cemetery a burnt landscape. His shirt clung to his chest, and the sweat rolled down his back.

He already missed Emma. His foster mother had been kind to him, when she sober. But when drunk, she’d stared at the TV ignoring Frank’s rages. Those were the nights Frank chased him around the house. Sometimes he used the belt, the one with the heavy metal buckle on it that could catch him across the tender parts behind his knees. Sometimes Frank just liked to kick and pummel. Ben, at 17, was afraid to fight back. He’d weather the beatings until he turned 18. He had been in five foster homes over the past eight years. He’d seen worse.

Ben and Frank drove back in silence.

“You need to take over Emma’s place now.” Frank pulled up to their small bungalow. “The laundry, dishes, cleaning…grocery shopping too.”

A tear slid down his sagging cheek. He didn’t bother to wipe it away. Ben tried to feel sympathy, but staring at Frank’s rough hands on the steering wheel, he only felt hatred.

“No problem,” Ben said. He jumped out of the car. Up in his room he stretched out on his bed. His chest tightened thinking of his real parents who had died in a car accident when he was nine. He knew if he had been with them he would be dead too. Sometimes he wished that had happened. Dead would be better than this place. Remembering them hurt. He’d once been loved, part of a family. He’d felt safe. He’d never known there were people like Frank. Squeezing his eyes shut he pushed the memories away and dozed off.

When he woke, dark enveloped him. Noises sounded downstairs. He jerked upright. What could Frank be doing? He eased out of his room and moved with quiet control down the stairs from his room. He found Frank smoking at the kitchen table. The light hovered dim, the globe full of dead bugs. Ben counted nine empty beer cans scrunched up on the table.

“Want something to eat?” he asked, to gauge Frank’s mood. He opened the fridge.

“If I wanted something to eat, dontcha think I’d be eating it?” Frank spat. Grimacing, he dropped his head on his arms and started to cry.

Ben stood still. The sobbing bounced off him. He shifted from foot to foot the longer Frank cried. He forced himself to move nearer and place his hand on Frank’s thick shoulder.

“We’ll be okay. You’ll see.” Ben tensed and snatched back his hand in disgust. As he turned back to the fridge, Frank touched his bottom. Just a light touch. Soft in its want. Ben stopped mid-step. He held his breath. The touch became a caress. It lingered. Recovering, he darted to his room, not looking back. He knew trouble was coming.

He dragged out his backpack under his dusty bed and filled it, keeping one ear cocked for Frank’s approach.

And it came.

He shoved the backpack under his bed. The door swung open, and Frank stood there.

“Don’t ever walk away from me. Do you hear?” Frank demanded. He leaned on the door frame; his shirt clung to his gut.

Ben just nodded with his head down, hoping Frank would leave. He had a terrifying vision of Frank throwing him on the bed, pulling down his jeans (as he fought to get out from under his heaving mass) and mounting him like a pig. He clenched his buttocks together.

“Why don’t you answer me? Talk to me. You’re so stupid and lazy!" Frank staggered in to the room, his face red and sweaty. He grabbed Ben by the shirt. “Get up!"

Ben shook off Frank’s hand. “Leave me alone! You make me sick.”

Frank’s eyes narrowed. He shoved Ben down. He kicked him in the back, then the head, then the back again. Ben curled in a fetal position. Frank’s sweat sprayed onto his neck.

“Who do you think you are? Who?!" Frank screamed, and continued to kick him.

Ben hugged himself tight sinking in a haze. Then his head cleared. Fury blazed, alongside the pain, exploding through his brain. He grabbed Frank’s foot mid-kick, throwing him off balance, and punched him hard as he fell. He had never hit him back before. Frank made a loud whoomph as he landed on an elbow. Shaking, he rose up and stumbled out of the room.

Ben touched his forehead. Blood oozed slick on it. His hands trembled. His back knotted with pain. He had to get out.

He pulled out a boot from under his bed. Reaching inside he grabbed a roll of money he had been pilfering from Frank’s top drawer over time. He counted enough for a bus ticket to head far-away and get a job and a cheap room. A place no one could hurt him again. Before he’d been terrified of running away, to be found and brought back to face Frank. That beating would be the worst of all. But he had to face his fear now. He’d die if Frank did more than beat him. The case workers were useless and the faces that showed up at the door changed time after time. He knew he wouldn’t find protection from them.

He swung his backpack over his shoulder and looked back at the bare room not belonging to him. He fought off self-pity and pushed open the door to listen. He heard the murmur of the television. Its ghostly light poured from Frank’s bedroom.

Ben tiptoed to the door. Frank sat in bed, his eyes shut. He had passed out, an arm over his head. A cigarette hung from his raised fingers, the ash still glowing. The television flickered, canned laughter filled the room. He kept his eyes on the cigarette. The ash grew. Then the cigarette slipped. It quivered. It hung in the air then tumbled in slow-motion. Nothing happened. The sheets smoldered. Laughter rang out again. Ben looked at the television. Some character ran around a kitchen. His gaze returned to the fallen cigarette. Minutes passed. It seemed like hours to him.

He needed to choose. Run or pick up the cigarette and prevent the certain fire? If he did nothing and Frank died, would he be a murderer? But Frank could have killed him just now. Might still kill him, or worse, if he ever caught him. He continued to stare where the cigarette fell.

The flames burst up from the sheets and fanned along the comforter framing Frank in a soft glow. They licked with hungry abandon through the old bedspread until Frank’s image blurred. He looked so serene, so harmless. Ben felt free and safe seeing him like that.

And he knew. He had to live. He wanted to live.

He ran.


  1. Sarah, thanks so much for posting! Just to clarify, I didnt co-coordinate the Write Stuff Conf. I just helped out in a pinch when asked by the truly awesome coordinators! :)

    And it was so great to meet you at the conf. Hope you had a great time!

  2. Wow, what a story! So rich with emotions.

  3. I love this story. I'm so connected with Ben's thoughts and emotions I feel like I'm eavesdropping! I love how his decision came from inaction and passiveness after all of the pain he experienced. -- Lisa

  4. @Donna - Well, you were a coordinating to me :) Thanks again for sharing your work w/ us.